Marshall will make its longest road trip since 1987 when it treks 1,762 miles west to El Paso to take on UTEP for the first time on Saturday. (Marshall traveled nearly 1,950 miles to take on Louisiana-Monroe in the 1987 national championship game in Pocatello, Idaho).
The contest will be televised on i (PAX TV/Adephia channel 2, Charter channel 9, and Armstrong channel 29 in Charleston/Huntington, W.Va.) and features two teams that are in their first season as members of Conference USA.
Marshall is coming off of a thrilling 20-19 homecoming win over UAB and UTEP is returning home after a long trek to Ruston, La., where the Miners defeated Tulane, 45-21. Both schools are 2-1 in league play and are fighting to stay among their division's leaders. The Thundering Herd is currently in a four-way tie for first in the East, while UTEP is looking to keep pace with West leader Tulsa (3-1).
UTEP, the pre-season favorite to win the C-USA West, features a high-powered offense that is averaging 32.8 points per game. The Miners, who own wins over New Mexico State, Houston, New Mexico, and Tulane, have only one blemish on their record at that is a 27-20 loss at Memphis.
UTEP is led by 6-5, 230-pound, junior quarterback Jordan Palmer who has thrown for 1,453 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. His top target is junior wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins who leades the team with 30 catches for 476 yards and seven TDs.
Marshall is being paced by sophomore runningback Ahmad Bradshaw who leads the team with 103.3 all-purpose yards per contest and in scoring with six touchdowns. Bradshaw is not only the Herd's leading rusher, but the team's top receiver with 36 catches.
QUOTES FROM Mark Snyder's WEEKLY PRESS CONFERENCE
"Coming into this game, I think we're playing probably the best team we've faced in Conference USA. I felt like going into the last game that UAB was just as talented as UTEP and I still think that holds true, but after playing the game and having some of the special teams success that we had against UAB, UTEP is not going to allow that to happen. So I think they've got all three phases going, so it will be a different team and we do have to go to their place. We have a stiff, stiff challenge in front of us and a challenge that we're looking forward to."
On UTEP going down field
"They take some shots. (Johnnie Lee) Higgins is having a great year. What coach Price has done is he puts playmakers in position to make plays. Their returning punts and kicks and he's definitely their go-to guy at wideout. He's the guy who can make it happen for them."
On Jordan Palmer and his brother, Carson
"You see the bloodlines there. You can tell they are related in a lot of aspects. I never had the chance to play against Carson, but I did have the opportunity to go to the Bengals camp this past year and watch him throw and watch his mechanics and it's funny to watch his little brother on film because they have a lot of the same mechanics."
On their running backs
"They've got good running backs. That's the mark of a good team; there's no question. When you can throw different styles of running backs at teams, it definitely helps. That was one thing I think Virginia Tech has going for them right now. They have three different kinds of tailbacks they can throw at you and they're all different in their own way. The difference is Virginia Tech runs the ball, and I'm not saying UTEP won't, but Virginia Tech features the run. I think those are good weapons to have if you feature them. That's what I have challenged our guys to do. With Ahmad and Chubb I feel like we have two and I've challenged our offensive staff to find a way to use our guys."
On the red zone
"As good as we've been defensively, we've been having problems offensively because the field shrinks, and that's where some creativity needs to come in and that's where you need to run the ball. You don't need to be real creative to run the ball when you get in the red zone. Teams that are scoring are able to run the ball when they get in the red zone. That opens up the pass. Out on the field, philosophy's philosophy and there are a million different ways to skin a cat. But I truly feel like when you get in the red zone, defensively you want to stop the run and react to the pass. And in the red zone, I'd like to be able to run the ball and have them react to the pass. That's what good teams do. We have had some success, and I'm proud of our defense there. We work on that and the two-minute every Tuesday and Wednesday in practice and it has paid off for us almost every game. Red zone is a mindset. Your mindset has to change when you get in the red zone."
On the defensive ends
"Teams are going to try and pound our defensive ends, so I think that will be the flavor of the month for us since we are a little small at defensive end and that's what teams have tried to do. We've seen it week in and week out where they get in two tight ends."
Will the defense attack Palmer to keep him from getting in a groove?
"We'll see how the game flows. I can't give you the game set today, but we'll see. I will say this, Memphis did a good job getting after him and some teams have done a good job laying off of him. We'll see what the game dictates."
On UTEP's Thomas Howard
"I just like him. He's just my kind of player. We all married our wives for a reason. Everybody likes a different type of player, and I like him as a linebacker. I think there are a lot of places in this country in my opinion that he would play. I think he's underrated in my opinion. He's instinctive. He's light on his feet. He's very, very smart. You can't fool him. He plays with great intensity. A very confident player. He's fun to watch. I'm a little biased because I'm a defensive guy. He's a good player. I think he's worthy of mentioning because he's a player nobody is talking about and we're going to have to do a good job with how we attack him."
About UTEP's defense
"They are very multiple. They do a good job of disguising, which is always hard on a young quarterback. The first thing I look for is what do they have in their package that is going to confuse my guy. And they do a nice job of moving their secondary and rotating down different ways and leaving guys out of the box and taking away plays that have been potential big plays for you. They're going to try to make you beat them left handed and they've got the guy in the middle who when you try to beat them left handed, he's pretty darn good."
Have you ever coached against Mike Price?
"I played against him in 1987 and had an interception."
Things have been crazy this year around the conference. Do you think things will settle down? "I don't know. I think it probably will, but I have nothing to base that on. Obviously I follow the Big Ten closely as a fan and I think that will settle down. I think you'll see the cream rise to the top in the league and I would assume you'll see that happen in this league. If UTEP keeps playing like they're playing right now, it's going to hard for them to be beaten. They played extremely well against Tulane fundamentally and made no mistakes. We've got to make sure that we change that trend."
What Memphis did to beat UTEP
"They pressured their offense on a consistent basis. They kept coming and coming and coming. It cost them some, but they won the game. They were bringing it. There are a million ways to skin a cat. They gave up some big plays, but it worked out for them in the long run."
On the defensive improvement
"Dennis (Thornton) is still improving and his career is about up, so he needs to improve in a hurry. I've been very pleased with Matt Couch. He's getting better and more fundamentally sound. I'm close to saying I'm happy with Matt's progress. I spoke to Matt yesterday and told him I thought he needed to go watch this kid play because Matt can be like that at some point in time. I think Matt is working very efficiently in the tackle box, so I've been really pleased with him. And I'm pleased with Juan Underwood. He's been playing extremely well. And our corners have been playing well. C.J. Spillman has been playing well and getting some valuable reps and so has J.J. (Johnson). They're freshmen and they're going to get picked on, but I still see them getting better. And I think our D-line has been getting better, but I just don't know if they're coming along as well as the other guys are right now. Not that they aren't doing well, but you really see some progress in those areas."
On Chris Hawkins
"He is playing really well. I felt like he was playing really well coming in. Besides the blown whistle call, I think he's played really well. We've challenged him to be more physical and he had a big hit Saturday, a far cry from what happened at Virginia Tech. It was change of attitude and improvement. He had however many missed tackles at Virginia Tech and right up there in front of our sideline, he just whacked that tight end. It was very nice to see."